When preparing for the the PMP or CAPM exam, or any certification exam for that matter, the top challenge that everyone faces is evaluating personal readiness to take the exam. How does one assess readiness? Most people have experienced various levels of confidence, and have utilized various techniques and discovered what does and does not work from trial and error. This article discusses a cognitive framework for evaluating readiness to take the PMP, CAPM, or any other certification exam.

Building Confidence

A student can build our confidence in mastery of the material in may ways, but I have narrowed it down to 3 key ways that seem to cover most situations:

1. Training and study should coincide with the learning styles that will best benefit you. For adults, this will likely involve studying from multiple sources that include a book or other printed material, lots of visuals, and perhaps some audio training such as podcasts. Most candidates will also want to either take classroom training, or interactive, reinforcing online training, where concepts are provided in a way that appeals to virtually all the senses, and is repeated over and over again.

2. Do lots of exam simulation questions to test knowledge and gain comfort with the exam format. You will find a number of sources for this, and each differs from the other in terms of breadth, number, and quality. Some are free, but the more comprehensive simulation exams cost something. The ability to run these simulations in learning mode is also very helpful.

3. Evaluate one’s “cognitive level”, or level of mastery, for the material. This relates to the level, or depth, of mastery of the subject material, such as the PMBOK, or Project Management Body of Knowledge.

This idea of “cognitive level”, or level of mastery, is the focus of the rest of this article.

Cognitive Levels of Understanding

In preparing for any certification exam, such as the PMP or CAPM, a useful evaluation framework for evaluating one’s own level of command of the subject is based on “Levels of Cognition” from “Bloom’s Taxonomy – Revised (2001)”.

Here are the 6 Levels of Cognition, together with some questions one can ask one’s self to evaluate readiness:

1. Knowledge Level

Can you recall or recognize terms, definitions, facts, ideas, materials, patterns, sequences, methods, principles, and so on?

2. Comprehension Level

Can you read and understand descriptions, communications, reports, tables, diagrams, directions, regulations, and so on?

3. Application Level

Do you know when and how to use ideas, procedures, methods, formulas, principles, theories, and so on?

4. Analysis Level

Can you break down information into its constituent parts?

Do you recognize relationships among the parts and how they are organized?

Can you identify sub level factors or salient data from a complex scenario?

5. Evaluation Level

Are you equipped to make judgments about the value of proposed ideas, solutions, and so on?

Can you prepare a proposal to specific criteria or standards?

6. Synthesis Level

Can you put together the parts or elements such as to reveal a pattern or structure not there before?

Can yo identify which data or information from a complex set are appropriate to examine further or from which supported conclusions can be drawn?

Students typically go through stages of study, starting with the first level, where a basic knowledge of the material is gained, and gradually progressing through the various levels, like building blocks, to the Synthesis Level. This “building block” approach entails going over and over the material multiple times, where a little more is learned each time, deepening the command of the material, and advancing gradually to the next level. One can only learn so much on each pass through the material, and with increased knowledge and depth of understanding, the mind is prepared for and receptive to newer and deeper insights into the material each time.

The PMP and CAPM exams are highly challenging, and the PMP exam is in part experience-based, requiring an integrated understanding of the material and its application and interrelationships. Overall, the PMBOK is not prescriptive but rather is a framework. For the CAPM requires us to understand the framework well, but the PMP requires us to think through each situation with the aid of the PMBOK framework.

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